BRAZILIANS FIND WAYS TO SKIRT FREEZE ON PERSONAL SAVINGS

BRAZILIANS FIND WAYS TO SKIRT FREEZE ON PERSONAL SAVINGS

Brazilians have adopted often ingenious, extralegal and sometimes downright

criminal economic survival tactics since President Fernando Collor de Mello froze 80 percent of the country's private savings and imposed other drastic stabilization measures in March.

Entrepreneurs are counterfeiting business documents and using other fraudulent techniques to wrest billions of dollars of frozen assets from the government, economists say.Kidnappings have surged, with abductors targeting medium-sized businessmen the gangsters believe can raise ransoms quickly despite the government asset freeze. Five ransoms paid in Rio in the last month ranged

from $10,000 to $1 million.

The day after Mr. Collor de Mello took office March 15, he proclaimed a sweeping package of stabilization measures to combat inflation that had reached 2,000 percent a year. The package included a one-month price freeze, a new floating currency, and a monetary reform that froze private savings greater than $1,000 for 18 months.

Mr. Collor de Mello assembled a special police unit to enforce tough new laws against commercial profiteering and tax evasion.

Economists said it was the most severe program of economic stabilization ever imposed in Latin America.

The two months since have been sometimes turbulent, often confusing and always trying for Brazil's 150 million people. Shoppers have looted supermarkets. Stock prices have fluctuated wildly. Tax laws have changed repeatedly. Police have arrested dozens of business owners for economic crimes.

"It's like a war," Soledad Mello, the owner of a Rio textile factory, said of her efforts to keep her business afloat. "You have to fight every day."

So far, economists say the results are mixed. Inflation has been sliced to about 3 percent a month, though fears persist that it may return. At the same time, fears that the liquidity crunch would trigger a depression surged after industrial production in April suffered its worst drop in history.

Attacking a $28 billion federal deficit, the Collor administration last week began auctioning off state-owned apartments in the capital of Brasilia, as well as fleets of government cars.

The ingenuity of many Brazilian businessmen has already proven more than a match for Mr. Collor de Mello's economic team. The government originally intended to freeze $115 billion for 18 months. But economists have discovered that crafty Brazilian companies, using a variety of subterfuges and frauds have already secured the release of between $10 billion and $40 billion.

One loophole allowed companies to make charitable contributions with their frozen funds. Many companies, apparently with the connivance of charitable foundations, have freed their frozen assets by donatings large sums, which the charities have immediately returned.